by Thom Yee
Why I’m watching… Community season 6
I don’t know if its the playback errors, the lousy buffering, the lack of a consistent HD signal, the need to use a geo-relocating VPN, the mobile app that’s not available in Canada, or the pause screens that made it impossible to take a good screen cap, but there was definitely something off about this season’s Community debut. I know beggars can’t be choosers, but Yahoo Screen really sucks even outside of the whole “We don’t care about Canadians” aspect of Yahoo’s distribution system. Look, all I’m really saying is that there’s a reason I spent $30 on my computer speakers and $2400 on my home theatre speakers, and it’s not just so I could make myself feel like a big man when I tell people how much I spent on my home theatre system. I just don’t like having to sit upright, stare at a tiny video window in a web browser, and use a service that tricks the servers into thinking I’m pinging from a different country when I’m just trying to watch a TV show (plus I got a pretty big discount on said speakers).
So here’s season six, the last of those prophesied before the fateful movie, and it comes to an even smaller than usual gathering of us here in Canada, forced to resort to online trickery and/or outright digital theft. Is there story left to tell? Do any of us still care? Has anything really changed other than another cast member leaving? Is there any more reason for the show to continue than a promise from long ago, that was actually about an even more ill-fated show called The Cape? It used to be that we could at least say “Who cares, it’s on TV” as we lingered back into the self-imposed oblivion of our couches and recliners, but this time around, they’re really making us work for the show. We can only hope that it’ll be worth it.
In another timeline, possibly the brightest, Community still wouldn’t be a big hit, but it would’ve garnered ratings just good enough to prevent Dan Harmon from being let go. In this timeline, the fourth season wouldn’t have wasted the last of the show’s luxuries like its full original cast, the fifth season would’ve reinvigorated the show with its new concept and a full season order that would’ve provided enough storytelling space to properly explain why everyone came back to school after their fourth year, a sixth season would’ve seen the passing of the torch from Harmon to the Russo brothers as new showrunners —who would still have had just enough time to handle their Marvel Studios duties, but would never have moved on to that weird Ghostbusters deal — and the concluding movie would feature the triumphant return of Harmon, now in the directing chair, after his whirlwind tour celebrating the worldwide success of Rick and Morty. I like to think in this timeline we’d also have a few more readers and contributors here on GOO Reviews as well.
I couldn’t help thinking about how much further along we could be with Community if the show hadn’t been so thoroughly defanged back in 2012 and Harmon’s firing as I watched “Ladders”, season six’s debut episode. Last year, which was a kind of blessing in and of itself, the core concept had to be rejiggered, not necessarily because of the natural flow of a four-year degree (because the details of our heroes’ scholastic careers never made that much sense anyway), but mostly because the few of us still watching were tasked with how to forget the preceding fourth season. While I thought bringing Jeff back as a teacher was an inspired touch, nobody else’s return really made that much sense, and then Troy and Shirley (and Hickey) left anyway, necessitating another reboot of sorts with the start of season six. This year, things start off with our characters on the offensive, and you could almost physically feel everyone trying to justify their continuing existences at Greendale.
Jeff is still Jeff this year, and Annie is still Annie, but we should focus in a bit on Britta and Abed for a second.
Britta’s now homeless, and as much as that’s played for jokes, it’s a genuinely dark turn for the character whose dehumanization has severely accelerated and now fully converted her from fiercely independent to living joke. And I don’t like it. Last year’s season (and almost series) finale featured some real growth for the character as she was temporarily raised back up to Jeff-level player with the red herring of their potential marriage, but now she’s literally down in the dumps. I just don’t like it, and I hope they do more with Britta going forward rather than turning her totally into this show’s Meg (Shut up, Meg!).
Abed’s also experiencing a serious regression, seemingly now more convinced than ever that he’s living in a TV show. The “catching everyone up” opening sequence was a cute joke, but it’s starting to get a little frightening to see how much his situation is also being played for jokes. Abed’s character (and character type) will probably always be a fan-favourite, but for me the strength of his character lies more in his settled, comfortable nature, the Abed who (even while joking about being in a sitcom) can spool off lines like “when you really know who you are and what you like about yourself, changing for other people isn’t such a big deal” and cause Jeff to reply, “Abed… you’re a god.” way back in season one. In “Ladders”, Jeff barely tolerates Abed, and only seems to keep him around in the hope of halting any forward progress.
Paget Brewster’s Frankie, however, is a surprisingly strong addition to the group, one whose stern manerisms contrast the mutant comedy machines that everyone else in the cast has become. In her own way and in keeping with the show’s themes, she’s also trying desperately to fit in despite her apparent confidence. Her begrudging return to Greendale, predicated on the promise of more apologies, seems an obvious parallel to creator Dan Harmon’s relationship with the show.
Overall, the first half of “Ladders” felt like a return to form, and it was refreshing to see some strong, quickly paced jokes and an expanded visual palette as the cameras took us outside of the bottle in a style reminiscent of the first season’s sweeping campus vistas. In contrast, the back half is a perfect showcase for how hard it would be for newcomers to jump on the series midstream. By now, Community seems to have become a show so ensconced in and enamored with its own high concepts that it no longer feels the need to sell them, and the speakeasy feels more like an idea thrown in our general direction than one that takes the right amount of time and space to settle in. Right now, I don’t know if [episode writers] Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna just aren’t trying anymore or if they’re trying way too hard.
Community “Ladders” final score: 7
Items of Note:
- If “weird, passionate, and gross” are words describing the good Belushi, what three words describe the bad one? I’m guessing “boring, derivative, and Jim”.
- Why doesn’t the Dean ever have his cell phone with him?
- So who discovered the pool was electrified? My money’s on the conspicuously absent-since-the-end-of-season-one Professor Whitman (“Seize the day!”).
- Britta: “Who in the crazy bitch?”
- Britta: “She implied Annie was a stuck-up Bitch who thinks she’s better than everyone.”
- Actually, Britta got a lot of the funnier lines this episode.
- I really hope we get more than a passing reference to Brie Larson’s Rachel this year. Her inclusion in season five was like Dan Harmon finding the one flower that grew out of the pot of dirt that was season four.
- So Abed had fries and potato chips for lunch and was carrying a bag of pretzels with him? Somebody’s cruising for high blood pressure.
- Dave! From the one episode last year that actually showed Jeff being a teacher!
- Chang: “Tacos!”
- For a second I thought that was Professor Slater working in Shirley’s and pointing Abed towards the speakeasy.
- Loved seeing Nathan Fillion again, but his presence also reminded me even more of Paget Brewster’s having also played the IT character in last year’s “Analysis of Cork-Based Networking”.
- “Everybody here is a fart… a living fart from the butt of a lesser god.” A god named Dan Harmon?
- I can appreciate the Butcher and the Baker spin-off, and I really appreciated a Shirley cameo, but it wasn’t as good as Thought Jacker would’ve been.
- -Seriously, was that the first Ladders class the ladders prof ever taught? A ladders teacher should, at the very least, be able to climb a ladder without falling.
6×02: “Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care”
When you think about it, seven core cast members is a lot, and it’s surprising the show was able to service them all as well as it did for the first three years. Still, one can’t help but feel a little bit emptied out with the few original cast members we have left.
There are two stories in “Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care”, and it’s really only one the A plot that’s worth any major consideration. The B plot of the episode features a VR set that the Dean purchases mostly as a device to introduce actor Keith David’s Elroy Patashnik to the show as the machine’s inventor and our newest Greendale student (who realizes that he has nothing left to in his life… but attend Greendale). Are they still the Save Greendale Committee? So far I like Elroy and I hope he’ll be given some relevance as the group’s elder statesman and a more consistent portrayal than Pierce received. I kind of liked what the show had to say about virtual reality because I still really don’t get its recent resurgence, and I didn’t mind seeing the Dean again being made the fool (because that, surprisingly, never gets tired), but it’s a plot that doesn’t really go anywhere beyond its function of introducing Elroy (though I did like that it concluded with Jeff’s full realization that he’s never getting out of Greendale).
The A plot focused on Britta’s stunted growth vis-à-vis her utterly likable parents George and Deb, played by the so lovely you’ll-wish-they-were-your-parents-no-matter-who-you-are Martin Mull and Lesley Anne Warren. Britta’s anarchist past has been somewhat of a mystery given how little genuine insight she’s been shown to have so far, and the fact that we still don’t get any solid grounding as to why she is the way she is even after meeting her parents kind of makes a lot of sense. With the way things were presented, it’s hard to know whether George and Deb’s parenting style left Britta without a sense of boundaries or if her memories are accurate and they really did do things like test her for drugs as a child because she was laughing too much. The former makes enough sense in itself and the latter, at least as a symptom, really is something to be mad about. In a way she’s kind of become the Joker of the group in that we still don’t really know where she came from, and the more we learn the more questions we have. If there’s one thing I am sure of though, it’s that it’s wrong (and disturbing) for all of your friends to hang out with your parents behind your back. And is Britta still trying to be a psychiatrist?
One minor note, and it again speaks to the de-evolution of the community: what’s going on with Chang? He’s gone from authority to crazy to ultimate power to explained insanity to accepted pariah, and ever since last season’s “Bondage and Beta Male Sexuality” (technically another Britta-centric episode) and Chang’s one-man ghost show, the character’s become increasingly and legitimately unhinged. Maybe we should actually be worried about him. Also, what happened to his gold teeth?
“Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care” was a quieter, more grounded episode than “Ladders”, even with all of the time spent in virtual reality, and even though it wasn’t as funny, at least it added something new that we could actually use rather than adding a bunch of new things desperately trying to validate their own existence.
Community “Lawnmower Maintenance and Postnatal Care” final score: 7.5
Items of Note:
- It may have been inefficient, but there’s something undeniably satisfying and right about having to hold a file underwater until it stops breathing in order to delete it.
- After so many bottled episodes, it’s extremely strange seeing our characters in normal settings like a real house. Or outside in a suburb. Or in a real car that’s not just on a stage with a moving background.
- Jimmy Fallon syndrome? But… Jimmy Fallon still sucks.
- Kind of wishing they’d cast a student-age and level replacement rather than (or in addition to) an administrative assistant or another old man.
- It’s going to sound weird hearing characters refer to someone with the name “Elroy.”